The Keys To His Job: Listening With An Ethical Mindset

The Keys To His Job: Listening With An Ethical Mindset

When Brian Peckrill came to the William G. McGowan Charitable Fund in 2021 and went on in 2023 to serve as Executive Director, he quickly learned that the entire operation is driven by the iconoclast, former MCI Communications CEO William G. McGowan’s principles of ethical leadership – character and integrity, accountability, self-awareness, courage, empathy, and resilience.

He checks himself on each of these principles as he interacts in person, online or over the phone, in his daily writings and while speaking.

On the job, he puts the principles to work as he listens to the McGowan Fund’s 2024-era Board-members, as they share about the communities where they live and the vision they respectively have for the organization.

He listens, too, to fellow not-for-profit leaders across America who tell him the challenges they are facing. What he learns from them is how to unlock some of the Fund’s potential to impact ethical change in myriad communities.

Sometimes that means enabling the provision of better access to education; other times, it is helping individuals find housing. Whatever is the particular need, the McGowan Fund seeks to help facilitate the solution.

He listens, too, to C-Suite business leaders, present and future, as they share their views about the future of America and what they believe we all need from our leaders to ensure that the next generation has a healthy, ethical, and productive society in which to live.

Acting without listening, Brian prognosticates, can lead to bad outcomes, even embarrassment or great harm.

Shortly after Brian was brought on, the Fund decided to establish an ‘Ethical Leader of the Year Award’. The first went to Charles Lowery, CEO and Chairman of Prudential Financial; the second went to Delta Air Lines Global CEO, Ed Bastian.

These two are worthy winners, in Brian’s eyes, who have each faced major challenges in their time and persevered using a common playbook that focuses on the “power of empowering people”.

When forced to reduce spending, reel in services, and yet still come out wounded during the COVID-19 pandemic, both of the above leaders opted first to protect their people in times of crisis.

It is to foster that kind of leadership that the Fund began their Fellows Program in 2010, at the time as a response to the 2008 financial crisis.

The core of the Fellows Program is the notion that experiential learning is a deeper, more visceral style of learning – taking the Fellows out of their comfort zone —  one that goes beyond just informing your attitudes and beliefs, to changing your behaviors as well.

The country has seen this program and the Fund’s grantmaking transform lives and transform communities. Yet, while they have brought 140 MBA candidates through the program, most of whom are rising in the ranks to leadership positions in the corporate or public service sectors, Brian suggests they are equally aware that grantmaking will have only a smattering of success if they do not have ethical business leaders and functioning business societies.

It is no question that we are together facing a massive crisis in consumer confidence; trust in business, trust in government, and even trust in not-for-profits has been on a downward slope. There has been a downward slope in terms of consumer satisfaction with brands, and with employee satisfaction with their employers in 2024.

Brian believes the best way to turn all this around is uplifting ethical leaders – people who exhibit character and integrity, accountability, self-awareness, courage, empathy, and resilience – people who by their own example set a higher standard for those around them.

Changing the culture starts with leaders who can implement systems that are conscious and mindful of those throughout their organizations, from the bottom up, and of the society as a whole, Brian contends.

He believes that the McGowan Fund and its promotion of the McGowan Fellows Program are helping to prepare the next generation of leaders who will be mindful to listen to society and its needs and will be fearless in helping to implement business strategies that, sure, are profitable, but also are people-centric.

Brian hopes that in the next few years, the McGowan Fund can put more energy into promoting an ethical and healthy not-for-profit sector, because trust in these institutions is absolutely crucial in order for them to deliver the positive impacts that American society needs.

A lot of the work he carried out at the State Department and in Japan in a previous life had helped him develop a broad horizon through which to assess leadership, assess challenges, and assess his work circumstances, applicable to his day to day leadership role within the McGowan Fund. Those challenges made him perhaps more flexible, more empathetic, and in a sense more resilient.

Here, those principles are always at the forefront, guiding his every step.

“I have learned through past and present experiences that even when I may not have the right answers, or even the right cultural context, I can advance and grow towards a solution by meeting people where they are and building connections – checking my own ego against the McGowan principles.

And listening. I believe one of the most important functions of an effective CEO is learning how to listen – not just to respond, but also to learn. It’s listening to understand the circumstances of individuals and communities – and to hear the aspirations of your staff and the people you serve.

Knowing your values, listening to others, and thinking about how you can impact both your bottom line and society form the core of ethical leadership.

And if enough leaders follow that template, we can turn around this crisis in confidence and rebuild trust – and re-energize an entire nation in 2024” – Brian Peckrill, Executive Director, the William G. McGowan Charitable Fund.

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